Tonbridge History

Tonbridge Historical Society


The Society was founded in 1960 to provide a focus for local people with historical interests. Unlike some similar societies it is concerned with national history and with archaeology, as well as with the history of Kent and the local area. The annual subscription is £9 per person (£3 for students under 18), and new members are welcome. If you would like to join, please download and print the Application form or apply to the Hon. Sec. via the contact page. (Application Form requires Adobe Reader, probably already installed on your computer, If not, click here for free download.)

A programme of lectures by invited speakers runs through the winter months. Meetings take place in the Riverside Room in the Angel Centre, Tonbridge, usually  on Thursday evenings. In addition there is an afternoon meeting, with tea, on a Saturday in November.

The society's Research Group explores varied aspects of the history of the town and its inhabitants, and has produced six publications.

A twice-yearly Newsletter is published with Society news, information, articles and pictures relating to the history of Tonbridge. You can download some recent Newsletters here.

The society also maintains extensive collections of archives and pictorial material, and is starting to build a collection of three-dimensional artefacts.

The local Archaeology Officer is a member of our Society and keeps a watching brief on building works in the area which may reveal historic material.

Lecture programme 2017-18

Meetings are held in the Riverside Room in the Angel Centre, Tonbridge, usually on the second Thursday of the month. Non-members are welcome to attend as guests at a fee of £3 (under 18s free), payable at the door.

Thursday 21st September, 7.45 pm

British Travellers at the Court of Tsars: Spies, Merchants & Adventurers
Patsy Erskine-Hill
Our speaker has degrees from Trinity College, Dublin and Edinburgh University. She travels widely and lectures on Russian, Italian and British history to groups including history societies and cruise passengers. She previously gave us a talk on ‘The Georgians’.

Thursday 12th October, 7.45 pm

Well I never knew that! A tour through the Darent Villages from Westerham to Dartford
Rod Shelton
The speaker lives in Otford and previously worked in the feature film industry. His concern for the conservation and protection of the Darent Valley led him into an interest in local history and the stories of the villages, resulting in a 300-page book, Darent, which became a best-seller. He is also a model-builder, creating museum quality models of the Darent’s famous sites when in their prime. His ‘Eynsford Castle in 1150’ is currently on show at the Sevenoaks Museum, and ‘Otford Palace in 1520’ is on permanent exhibition at the Otford Heritage Centre. He is active in local conservation projects including the protection of Otford’s Archbishop’s Palace and the recent discovery of a new Roman villa site in Otford.


Saturday 11th November, 2.30 pm

Two-session meeting with tea. Booking is essential for this meeting – a form with details of charges is available from the secretary.

Bronze Age Wood and Iron Age Stone: Prehistoric discoveries on Kent’s Channel Coast
Dr Andrew Richardson
The talks will centre on the Bronze Age boat found at Dover in 1992, and the adventures with building a half scale replica of it. The excavation of this prehistoric wooden boat – at 3000 years old probably the oldest seagoing boat found anywhere ‒ was an internationally important archaeological discovery. The speaker will also outline recent discoveries made at Folkestone. Since May 2007 Dr Richardson has been in charge of public engagement, education and partnership projects for Canterbury Archaeological Trust, having previously completed a Ph D on Anglo-Saxon cemeteries in Kent. In his spare time he assists Kent police with tackling heritage-related crime. He has also been involved in projects with military veterans, where archaeology is used as a form of therapy.

Thursday 14th December, 7.45 pm

Ships, Clocks and Stars: the quest for longitude
Dr Rebekah Higgitt
The speaker is a historian of science working mainly on 18th and 19th century Britain, particularly the his­tory of astronomy and navigation. She was previously Curator of History of Science at the Royal Observatory Greenwich and National Maritime Museum.


Thursday 8th February 2018, 7.45 pm

The Heritage and Memory of Hop Picking in West Kent
Dr Toby Butler
The speaker is a local resident and history lecturer at the University of East London, and with his students has explored the remains of the hop picking industry around West Kent. In this talk he will discuss his work bringing groups of ex-pickers down from East London to revisit the farms and record their memories, and his ideas for how the area might better utilise the heritage of local hop picking and beer making. The talk will include the screening of a documentary film screening shot at nearby farms in Five Oak Green.

Thursday 8th March 2018, 7.45 pm

The Plague Doctor of Kent: how a 17th century Wealden doctor confronted a lethal disease
Alex Ferris
The speaker is Chairman of Smarden Local History Society and speaks on a variety of historical subjects, all of which have come to light as the result of research carried out by the Society at its Heritage Centre in recent years.

Thursday 12th April 2018, 7.30pm

AGM followed by
The Armistice, Before and After
Geoff Vines
The speaker has researched and visited WW1 battlefields for over 30 years, collecting militaria from around the areas and finding out about the war above and below ground.


Our lecture topics in 2016-17 were 'Crossrail Archaeology', 'Life in a Noble Household in the 14th century', 'Monasteries & Monastic Life' and 'Building a Mediaeval Cathedral', 'Bad King John?', 'Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart Kent', 'Elizabethan and Jacobean Deer Parks in Kent', 'Aspects of Medieval Tonbridge'.

Our lecture topics in 2015-16 were: 'Magna Carta', 'The Huguenots and their contribution to Kent', 'The Signs of the Times (how to read medieval art) and The Politeness of Princes (the reality of medieval etiquette and table manners)', 'An engineer at the Great Exhibition', 'The Medway Valley during the Roman Occupation', 'The real Downton Abbey – Edwardian Service', 'Fortress Tonbridge 1939-45'.

Our lecture topics in 2014-15 were: 'Traditional Kentish building meterials', 'Archaeology and Graffiti at Knole', 'The London Eye', 'First World War artists', 'Kent 100BC to 600AD', '19th century gluttony and starvation'.

In 2013-14 they were: 'The Georgians', 'Kent in the Civil War', 'Shakespeare's Playhouses', 'Theatrical Lives', 'A History of comic verse', 'A POW's diary', 'Gadshill Place', and 'The Luttrell Psalter'.

In 2012-13 they were: 'A History of domestic lighting', 'Hospitals and Almshouses', 'Victorian London' and 'Victorian leisure and pleasure', 'The Queen and the 1950s', 'Black Travellers in 19th century Africa', 'Policing the past', 'The Norman Conquest'.

In 2011-12 they were: 'Tudor Ladies', 'A City of Legends (Benghazi history and archaeology') 'Women Wartime Workers in the Munitions Industry and The Bevin Boys', 'Oral history – fact or fiction?', 'The building of the Crystal Palace', 'Cast Iron Firebacks', 'All the rage – fashions in the 1920s and 30s'. 

In 2010-11 they were: 'Louis XIVth', 'Knole and the Sackvilles', 'The Magpie' (drama presentation on the wives of Henry VIIIth), 'Railways in West Kent', 'The Origins and Early Development of Towns in Kent', 'The Salomons of Broomhill', 'The work of the KCC Heritage Conservation Team'.

In 2009-10 they were: 'Darwin, the scientist in the garden', 'Edward 1st', 'Paintings of domestic town gardens', 'The history of lace', 'The Wealden Forest Ridge project', 'Emigration in the 19th century', and 'Sightseeing in the Middle Ages'.

In 2008-9 they were: 'Rudyard Kipling', 'Mediaeval Sandwich', 'A country house Christmas', 'Plays and Players in Mediaeval and Early Modern Kent', 'Archaeology of the Olympic site', 'Westenhanger Castle', and 'A closer look at old Tonbridge'.


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